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Zeta-Jones graces Wales at opening

Jun 21 2006

Tryst Williams, Western Mail


Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas

CATHERINE ZETA-JONES was the Lady Of The Lace yesterday when she brought Hollywood glamour to the Children's Hospital of Wales.

Her version of a Florence Nightingale-type trip to the wards was a few thousand pounds of designer garb, of-the-moment bug-eyed shades and a pair of high must-have metallic peep-toe shoes away from the more starched, less glammy, original.

Zeta, with a nod to the latest fads for all things lacy, crocheted or broderie anglaise, was a hit with staff, parents and bodyguards alike in the muted, beige two-piece lacy number with matching wrap. She accessorised with an over-sized gold crucifix necklace and discreet designer bag. Although, cheekily, the figure-hugging style of the outfit did lead to Catherine having to fend off a suggestion that she may be expecting baby Douglas number three. She's not!

Zeta and her husband Michael Douglas were in Cardiff to celebrate the opening of the first of the £21m development.

Swansea's most famous daughter, made the surprising admission - in light of her patriotic "Oggie oggie oggie" moment at the Oscars - that she was supporting England all the way in this year's World Cup.

Meanwhile Douglas conceded that while children Dylan, five, and Carys, two, have a touch of Swansea lilt, their accent is best described as "Bermudean".

Stepping into the landmark hospital for the first time, and shimmering in her lacy cream skirt and top, gold shoes and dazzling silver watch the Hollywood starlet simply said, "Oh wow" in a drifting transatlantic drawl that seems poised to become a fully fledged US accent at any moment.

"I've been patron (of the Noah's Ark fundraising appeal) now for six years and I'm very, very honoured but this is the beginning stage," she said, "We've got a lot more work to do and a lot more campaigning and I'm just very proud that we now have a dedicated children's hospital in Wales."

Phase one of was opened on March 1 last year but this was Catherine's first visit to the finished hospital.

More than £7m was raised by the public through the Noah's Ark Appeal, which continues its fund-raising efforts for further phases of the children's hospital.

Catherine joked, "We'll do it. If I have to lock people up and steal their money we'll do it!"

She memorably helped raise funds four years ago by joining fellow patron Charlotte Church and cricketing hero Ian Botham on the final leg of the Noah's Ark Appeal Ian Botham Walk, later auctioning her gown for the charity at a ball.

Yesterday's visit whipped up the kind of frenzy that would normally invite comparisons with royal visits. But in truth, this far surpassed anything that has been seen in Wales since the days of Princess Diana.

A phalanx of paparazzi lined the pavement outside. "Protection officers" were listed among the guests on the official handouts. And a gaggle of police were on hand throughout the 90-minute visit.

But even they struggled to cope with the swarm of interest - camera crews, women clutching camera phones, families dashing to keep up with the entourage - as the couple walked across the hospital grounds to catch a round of official speeches, unveil a plaque, and watch the sterling singing and dancing of the pupils of the capital's Rhydypenau Primary School.

Chatting with the media, staff, children and their parents, a relaxed Catherine fended off reports she was having a third child by saying, "No I'm not pregnant. I may get checked out while I'm at the hospital."

Douglas, in his grey suit, crisp navy shirt and purple tie, seemed happy to play second fiddle to his wife. He simply added, "We're enjoying our two children and we're going to keep it that way."

Filling the first round of greeting young patients with World Cup small-talk, Zeta chipped in, "We have to support the England team. Go boys! I'm hoping to go to the semi-finals and I hope it's the England team there."

But, of course, while there may have been celebrities in town yesterday there was never any doubt about the real stars of the show.

The staff, the parents and the children who use the hospital every day. Children like 13- month-old Frankie Brown, snoozing contentedly in his pram in the sun shortly after his brush with fame.

Thanks to the Children's Hospital the 60 fits a week Frankie suffered at the start of his life have been brought under control.

Or five-month-old Brandon Scott Lee Thomas of Merthyr Tydfil, born with his bowels outside his body and facing yet more operations as he gets older to fix his intestine and liver.

His mother, Stacey, 21, from Merthyr Tydfil, said, "The real stars are people like the surgeon because there was a 20% chance Brandon wouldn't survive." But Stacey also spoke of how important such visits were.

"It was lovely, it was really great - she touched him and said 'God bless' and signed an autograph which we will keep for him when he's a bit older," she said.

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